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Temple Avodat Shalom is a community where individuals and families can worship, study, and assemble within the context of Reform Judaism. We accept and encourage a wide range of ideas and expressions of Judaism.
We provide for the lifelong educational needs of all our congregants, helping to cultivate an appreciation of our heritage and the joys of Judaism. Our educational goals include teaching Jews of all ages a love of God, an understanding of Torah, and identification with Israel.
Our congregation is devoted to acts of loving-kindness (g'milut chasidim) and healing the world (tikkun olam) through our many social action programs within and beyond our Jewish community. We are committed to equality between men and women, reaching out to interfaith couples, and a respect for Jewish ritual traditions. We are dedicated to meeting the needs of our families, with a focus on our children, who are our future. In the spirit of our faith and our founders, we endeavor to provide a warm community and a chain of continuity for all who wish to share our home.
Amidst these beautiful moments of honor and celebration, we transition to perhaps the most bittersweet part of our festive morning, as we prepare to honor our teacher, Cantor Ronit Josephson, on the occasion of her retirement. Just a few weeks ago, Cantor Josephson extended to me the honor of speaking before she addresses our community herself. I had thought that it might be better for one of our long-standing members, someone who has known Cantor Josephson throughout her twenty years of service to our congregation, to speak about Ronit's achievements and accomplishments as our cantor. But then I realized that I'm not here to provide highlights and anecdotes from your career. I'm here to honor my colleague and honor my friend.
I remember coming into Temple Avodat Shalom for my interviews, our conversations during the spring when I was transitioning from Sydney to River Edge, and then the summer of 2013 when we began to work together. I was "gung ho," ready to go, filled with ideas and inspiration, about to ride off into battle and take on the world, and "be the senior rabbi of Temple Avodat Shalom." And there you were, Ronit, with a slightly different agenda. You reminded me, time and time again, to stop, to take stock of what people were saying about common practices in our congregation, to listen to their stories, and to learn to hold them, and to value their truth, no matter the circumstance. You often said to me, "We're here to serve them, and nothing else matters."
And there was another piece to all of the long hours that we spent together. We planned, we created programs, we reflected on the ups and downs of congregational life, we worried...and we worried some more. But somehow, deep in the goodness of your heart, you knew that this relationship had to be something more than two members of clergy doing the work that clergy usually do. You sought me not as a rabbi, not even as your partner on the bimah for that was a given, but as your friend. You cared about me as a person. You empathized with me over the absence of my family for six months. And you said, "No one was ever buried with a gravestone that says 'He was right.' Don't be right," you said, "Be wise."
And your door was always open. In the two years that we have worked together, you have always given to our relationship openly, with kindness, from the depth of your heart. Even when I haven't been my best self, you've invited me to do better, to strive to be the best that I can be. And all you ever asked for was a friend, a healthy relationship of equals sharing in the sacred responsibility of leading this congregation to better places, with some spicy tuna sushi, a good movie, and cultured conversation thrown in from time to time.
Ronit, as you look back on the special moments -- the babies that you've named and watched grow through years of education, the countless b'nai mitzvah students that you've helped to shine on their special day, the teenagers that you've watched become adults and who you've stood with under the chuppah, the congregants, the members, who have become your friends, your community, and some of whom you have had to tenderly lay to rest, there's one common element that stands out in all of these moments - the boundless depth, the beautiful openness of your heart and your soul. We could honor you for your beautiful voice. We could honor you for the way that you've led us in song all these years. But what we truly must honor is you, Ronit, for the person that you are, for the beautiful presence that you've shown us, and for the beautiful friendship that you have extended to all of us.
Somehow, you knew that to lead this congregation through transition, to lead this congregation together, we needed to be more than just a cantor and rabbi, we needed to have a friendship that was grounded in trust and mutual respect. I am grateful to you for seeking a relationship on these terms and I am thankful that this relationship with you and with our families will continue for years to come. As you prepare to conclude your time here at Temple Avodat Shalom, we pray that God may continue to guide you in your new endeavors with inspiration, creativity, and brilliant moments of expression. May our friendship continue to go from strength to strength, and may you and your family be blessed with good health, strength, love, and peace.